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Mad Men and Working Women

Feminist Perspectives on Historical Power, Resistance, and Otherness

Erika Engstrom, Tracy Lucht, Jane Marcellus and Kimberly Wilmot Voss

This book was featured as one of thirty-four Epic Feminist Books in Teen Vogue magazine.

This book offers interpretive and contextual tools to read the AMC television series Mad Men, providing a much-needed historical explanation and exposition regarding the status of women in an era that has been painted as pre- or non-feminist. In chapters aimed at helping readers understand women’s lives in the 1960s, Mad Men is used as a springboard to explore and discover alternative ways of seeing women. Offering more than a discussion of the show itself, the book offers historical insight for thinking about serious issues that «modern» working women continue to face today: balancing their work and personal lives, competing with other women, and controlling their own bodies and reproductive choices. Rather than critiquing the show for portraying women as victims, the book shows subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) ways that feminism functioned in an era when women were supposedly caught between the «waves» of the women’s movement but when, the authors argue, they functioned nonetheless as empowered individuals.
By doing so, it provides historical context and analysis that complicates traditional interpretations by (1) exploring historical constructions of women’s work; (2) unpacking feminist and non-feminist discourses surrounding that work; (3) identifying modes of resistance; and (4) revisiting forgotten work coded as feminine.
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2 “Oh, and Men Love Scarves”: Secretarial Culture From Bartleby the Scrivener to Joan Holloway



“Oh, and Men Love Scarves”

Secretarial Culture From Bartleby the Scrivener to Joan Holloway

Jane Marcellus

In the first episode of Mad Men, when Joan Holloway—hips swaying gently in her form-fitting green dress—shows Don Draper’s new secretary Peggy Olson around the Sterling Cooper offices, she is full of advice. “I don’t know what your goals are,” she says, “but don’t overdo it with your perfume, keep a fifth of something in your desk—Mr. Draper drinks rye—and also invest in some aspirin, Band-Aids, and a needle and thread.” As Peggy follows eagerly, ponytail swinging, Joan assures her that if she plays her cards right, she’ll soon be married and “out in the country” where she “won’t be going to work at all.” Meanwhile, she should go home, cut some eyeholes out of a paper bag, put it over her head, take her clothes off and honestly evaluate her body’s strengths and weaknesses. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” she adds, eyeing Peggy’s beige below-the-knee A-line skirt, “but a girl like you with those darling little ankles, I’d find a way to make them sing. Oh, and men love scarves.”

Practical from the perspective of someone who believes that the way to get by in a male-dominated world is to please men, Joan’s advice is full of mixed messages: Make yourself attractive, but don’t overdo it. Be prepared to pour men a drink, mend their wounds and...

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